Resource Details

Burning biodiversity: Fuelwood harvesting causes forest degradation in human-dominated tropical landscapes

Literature: Journal Articles

Maria Joana Specht, Severino Rodrigo Ribeiro Pinto, Ulysses Paulino Albuqueque, Marcelo Tabarelli, Felipe P.L. Melo, 2015. "Burning biodiversity: Fuelwood harvesting causes forest degradation in human-dominated tropical landscapes." Global Ecology and Conservation, Vol. 3, pp. 200-209.

Contact Info

Corresponding author: Felipe P.L. Melo

Tel.: +55 81 2126 8944.


  • Departamento de Botânica, Universidade Federal de Pernambuco (UFPE), Av. Prof Moraes Rego s/n, 50670-901, Recife, PE, Brazil
  • Centro de Pesquisas Ambientais do Nordeste, Rua Dom Pedro Henrique 167, Santo Amaro, 50050-150, Recife, PE, Brazil
  • Universidade Federal Rural de Pernambuco, Departamento de Biologia, Laboratório de Etnobiologia Aplicada e Teórica (LEA), Rua Dom Manuel de Medeiros s/n. Dois Irmãos, 52171-900, Recife, PE, Brazil


Global Ecology and Conservation

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Species Info

  • Byrsonima sericea
  • Tapirira guianensis
  • Cupania oblongifolia
  • Mimosa caesalpiniaefolia
  • Bowdichia virgilioides
  • Eschweilera ovata
  • Thyrsodium spruceanum
  • Schefflera morototoni
  • Vockysia oblongifolia
  • Psidium guajava
  • Vismia guianensis
  • Myrcia silvatica
  • Syzygium cumini


  • In the Northeastern Brazilian Atlantic Forest (BAF), extremely dense populations of poor, rural villages create chronic disturbances within the already heavily fragment Atlantic forest in favor of gathering hardwood fuel supplies. This hardwood is self-gathered without management techniques and burned inefficiently, and is driven by poverty, proximity to forest fragments, human labour availability, and lack of alternative energy sources. One of the most biodiverse, endemic, and endangered regions on the planet, the northeastern BAF has not previously been closely studied for the impact of rural fuelwood development, which is far more difficult to measure and analyze than other major forest degradation causes.
  • This study surveyed sugar-cane field sites within small rural villages with large tracts of private agricultural plantation lands and small-subsistance agricultural lands from former sugar-cane plantations now owned by the government. In both cases, the people have access to small-scale fuelwood from nearby forests. The survey sought to examine the socioeconomic conditions of the people living in northeastern BAF and their fuelwood consumption, and the pressure of fuelwood harvesting.
  • The study found that 76% of the households used fuelwood as the main source of fuel for cooking, including those that used a mixture of fuelwood and gas, and fuelwood dependency was inversely correlated to per-capita income categories. Families earning less than 74 US$/month were more likely to rely on fuelwood, and earners greater than 139 US$/month were less likely to rely on fuelwood. The study also found that the source of this fuelwood was likely the native forest remnants rather than backyard exotics (which account for just 11% of the species cited), and 80% the fuelwood harvested were early successional species (highest citations reported above).
  • Due to the interrelation of the less-studied fuelwood impacts and broad regional poverty, and it's potential to cause chronic forest degradation, it would be wise to integrate policies focused on alleviating poverty into conservation efforts in the region.

Geographical Region

  • Coastal Atlantic South America
  • Country

  • Brazil
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